Benchmarking leadership development goals

One of the popular techniques that people with good leadership skills used in the early years of the Total Quality Management movement was...

One of the popular techniques that people with good leadership skills used in the early years of the Total Quality Management movement was to send their employees to visit other organizations that had a reputation for doing something extremely well. Xerox sent a team of people who were working on a process to speed distribution of its products to Domino’s Pizza, an early pioneer in speedy delivery of its product. Benchmarking was a powerful way to get employees to see for themselves a better way to approach a task, without the leader’s being the one to go collect the information and bring it back to the group.

As organizations mature, an attitude of “we know best” or “this is how we’ve always done it” often creeps in. This “we know it all” attitude is the antithesis of the “learning organization” that is actively looking for new and better ways.

Leaders often initiate discussions about performance with individuals when there is an obvious problem. This could include things not being done on time. Or it could be that tasks are being accomplished in a less than professional manner. Often the leader may raise these performance deficiencies with the entire team in a staff meeting. This doesn't need a how to be a good leader primer!

But is that the only time to have performance discussions? What if the leader initiated a performance discussion with the team when things were going quite well? What if the leader asked for the team members’ ideas about how things could be even better? This is a leadership goals act of the highest order.

Think of how you might initiate such a conversation with your group.

leadership development goals

Leadership development goals: Identify Peak Performers in the Organization

One powerful technique that people with leadership characteristics use is to ferret out the individuals already within the organization who are unusually fast or good at what they do. For some reason, these people are often ignored, and their improved processes and techniques help them to perform well personally, but are never adopted by others. When high performers are not recognized or rewarded for their exceptional performance, their performance will usually gradually decline.

Worse yet is when leadership communication single out their favorites and ignore every other individual or team. When trying to improve the performance of any group of individuals or any team, a good question to ask is, “Which individuals (or what teams) are doing this extremely well? Let’s identify these people or teams and seek their permission to observe them, interview them, and have them become the trainers for new people coming in.”

Utilize Team Dynamics and Support to Achieve Stretch Goals

Many individuals with leadership traits have discovered that having the team set its goals collectively can be a powerful technique. Invariably, one or more of the team members would like to reach higher. They toss out potential goals that the manager would be wary of proposing, but having such a goal come from one of the team members makes it infinitely more appealing. Many managers have found themselves in the position of attempting to scale back the team’s ambitions. That’s usually a much more favorable position than trying to radically lift the sights of individuals or the team. We encourage leadership development programs to experiment with this technique. Prior to a team meeting in which you toss the challenge of establishing a goal or target for the completion of a project to the team, write down what you would have proposed had you done this unilaterally. Then compare that to what the team decides on.

Why does this succeed so frequently? We know that people support decisions that they helped to make. When the team has an active part in the decision process, everyone on the team is more committed to making it succeed. The acceptance of a decision is a huge part of its success, and having the team make the decision collectively adds one more important dimension. Now the team members are holding one another accountable for doing what is required to meet the target that they collectively set.

Improve Processes and Remove Bureaucracy

Another technique that people with leadership qualities use to raise the bar is to challenge individuals or teams to streamline the processes that they use. Seldom do you find complex systems in organizations that can’t be improved if people will take the time to map out the current process in some detail, then look for places to eliminate unnecessary steps or generally streamline the entire process.

The airline industry has saved millions of dollars by moving from paper tickets to e-tickets. Direct deposit payroll checks have been a real boon to both corporations and their employees.

In order to really improve processes, people need to ask more lofty questions. Getting a 10 percent increase in productivity on a process can typically be done by people just working a little bit harder. Asking for a 50 percent improvement forces the team to consider entirely new approaches. Bureaucracy is often so embedded that it is considered off limits to change or improvement. Great leaders look everywhere for opportunities.

Celebration and Reward

Regardless of how committed your team is, if a lofty goal is achieved, celebration and rewards for the individuals and the team need to be carefully considered. Teams have to celebrate victories even at important milestones along the way to the ultimate goal. Of course, most organizations are not finished when a major objective is reached. In fact, most of the time, that objective is quickly followed by yet another. So when it is time for the team members to give all that they can for the next hard-to-achieve goal, they need to look back and feel that they were appropriately recognized and rewarded for their extra effort and performance. Otherwise, why would they do it again? Stretch goals deserve stretch rewards and ought to be celebrated in a way that is appropriate for your organization.

Most people are willing to put forth a reasonable amount of effort, but at some point they hold back and look for ways to conserve energy. We probably learn this from our physical limitations. After you have been holding your breath for a period of time, the instinct and desire to breathe are very strong. Even though most people could hold their breath longer, the instinct wins out. For most of us, when we are asked the question, “Did you give all that you had to give?” the honest answer is no. There is a great deal of conserved energy in every organization. Setting stretch goals can release some of that conserved energy, bringing increased productivity and success to the organization. The great side effect of getting people to stretch is that when people accomplish challenging objectives, they are happier about their jobs and more pleased with themselves.

Some people may assume that all team members will be overjoyed at being given a very challenging objective. However, those with experience know they will not be. There will often be some complaints, groans, and criticism for the leadership characteristics list. But if you follow the principles outlined in this post, this could eventually be one of the best memories people have and something that fills them with pride and confidence for years to come.

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Thought Leadership Zen: Benchmarking leadership development goals
Benchmarking leadership development goals
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